The Concept of Community
in Social Work Practice
It is hard to imagine a more elusive concept than the idea of community. Fraught with meaning, the word community conjures up memories of places where we grew up and where we now live and work, physical structures and spaces— cities, towns, neighborhoods, buildings, stores, roads, streets. It evokes memories of people and relationships—families, friends and neighbors, organizations, associations of all kinds: congregations, PTAs, clubs, teams, neighborhood groups, town meetings. It evokes special events and rituals—Fourth of July fireworks, weddings, funerals, parades, and the first day of school. It evokes sounds and smells and feelings— warmth, companionship, nostalgia, and sometimes fear, anxiety, and conflict as well. We all grew up somewhere; we all live in communities somewhere; we all desire human associations, some degree of belonging to a human community; we all carry around some sense of community within us. It goes deep into our souls (see Box 4.1).The elusiveness of the concept of community derives from its multidimensionality. Accordingly, for this book, we have adopted Fellin's (2001) formal definition of communities as “social units with one or more of the following three dimensions:
They hang the man and flog the woman Who steals the goose from off the Common, But let the greater criminal loose Who steals the Common from the goose.
|1.||a functional spatial unit meeting sustenance needs|
|2.||a unit of patterned interaction|
|3.||a symbolic unit of collective identification (p. 1). ”|
This chapter establishes the basic concepts, variables, and changes related to community life. The following two chapters examine ways of studying communities and methods for hearing community concerns. To change community, their parts, processes, and particularities must be understood.
The common elements in sociological definitions of community are geographic area, social interaction, and common ties. However, while connection to a territorial base is frequent so that neighborhoods, villages, or cities fit the defini-